The State of Sustainable Meat Processing - What Laws and Policies Make a Difference?

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2024: $363,569.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2027
Grant Recipients: LL.M. Program in Food and Agricultural Law; Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, Center for Small Farms, Oregon State University; The Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, Bumpers College, University of Arkansas (1862 Land Grant); Cypress Valley Meat Company; Quapaw Food Services Authority; Dr. David Fernandez; Cowry & Clay - Shirah Dedman; Food System 6
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Kelly Nuckolls, Esq., J.D., LL.M.
LL.M. Program in Food and Agricultural Law
Susan Schneider
University of Arkansas Law School


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

COVID-19’s impact on meat
processing and the resulting supply chain breakdown led to
increased interest among policymakers for supporting small meat
processing. However, producers struggled to access processing
services even prior to the pandemic. Even today, farmers in this
proposal are required to book a processing date 12-18 months in
advance, which is an unreasonable fit for the variability that
comes with knowing when animals will be ready to butcher. The
processing shortage affects how producers can market their meat
(custom versus USDA inspected) and the quantity of meat they have
to sell. States and the federal government have considered a wide
range of policies when it comes to addressing processing
bottlenecks, including grant or loan programs for small
processors, workforce development programs, and more. This
includes grant projects in some areas to support small plant
growth, but there has not been an assessment to date regarding
whether these projects have positively impacted sustainable
livestock and poultry systems. In some instances, the grant funds
were awarded quickly and may not have included a thorough
assessment of the processing needs in that region. Small plant
closures are still occurring in the areas we are hoping to
analyze (AR, OK, and TX) where clear processing gaps remain for
certain species. The producer participants in this proposal are
located across three states (AR, OK, TX) and rely on local
processing to sustain their operations. The goal of this project
is to assess and compare the impact these state and federal
policies have on sustainable meat and poultry farmers in AR, OK,
and TX, as well as small processors’ economic viability, small
plant workers’ safety and wages, supply chain resiliency, and an
overall shift towards a more sustainable food system. This
research will: 1) determine the efficacy of recent policies
(within the last 10 years), (2) identify weaknesses in the
current policies and opportunities for policy action to improve
processing access, quality of life in rural communities, and
economic sustainability, and 3) promote well-researched policy
recommendations and ideas to support the region’s sustainable
livestock and poultry systems. The proposed solutions include a
report and toolkit producers can use to advocate for policies
that will alleviate processing bottlenecks. The project will have
a strong educational component featuring success stories, lessons
learned, and tips for future grant funded support for small-scale
processors. After assessing existing facilities in the three
states, we will create a map highlighting every facility with
information about the species slaughtered or processed, hours of
operation, and where additional processing is needed. We will
share materials and educational resources through online and
print publications, websites, webinars, and other outreach
methods. Objectives will include: 1) gathering and analyzing
research data on the policies that impact small meat and poultry
plants; 2) identifying where the processing gaps in these states
exist; 3) producing educational materials for small processors,
farmers and ranchers, and other key stakeholders; and 4)
implementing best practices for addressing processing gaps in
these three states.

Project objectives from proposal:

From the farmer survey, processor
survey, interviews, and our team’s own legal and policy research
and analysis, the project team will achieve the following

  1. Collect and analyze research
    data on the policies that impact small meat and poultry plants
    in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, including the plants’
    economic viability, worker safety and wages, processing and
    slaughter access for independent farmers, and rural job
  2. Evaluate policies and programs
    around small, independent processing and sustainable livestock
    and poultry production. 
  3. Characterize the policy trends
    that will create a more sustainable and resilient livestock and
    poultry processing supply chain. 
  4. Identify where processors are
    located and where processing gaps are in these three
  5. Produce educational materials
    for small processors, farmers and ranchers, and other key
    stakeholders detailing best practices for processing expansion
    in their area and where there are policy barriers and

Next, our project team will
create a report and toolkit based on our research that will
achieve the following objective:

6. Explain the impact of certain
policies on farm and ranch and processing and slaughter
businesses and how to engage in research-based policy making at
the local, state, and federal levels.

Additionally, we will research
the success and barriers small processors face when trying to
meet the demands of ranchers and farmers, including potential
legal and policy impacts. Case studies on these small processors
will focus on the following learning objectives:

7. Discover best practices for

8. Observe where policies can
benefit expansion and where policies can prevent

The two half-day virtual webinars
that will include livestock and poultry producers and small
processors and the short videos will meet the following learning

9. Understand the processing
expansion barriers and where policies can help address these

10. Recognize the necessary
questions to ask to ensure their processing facility is a
sustainable business model for their operations and includes a
well-paid, safe, and healthy workforce. 

11. Describe where there are
economic, legal, and policy gaps that prevent processing
expansion in their region. 

The area small processor list
will help farmers achieve the following objective: 

12. Outline what processors are
in the area, including newer processors, including what services
the processors provide.

Overall, we hope this project
will achieve the following objectives: 

13. Implement best practices for
addressing processing gaps in these three states.

14. Develop new policies that
will help address processing gaps, support workers, and increase
small business sustainability in this multi-state

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.